Its amost the tail end of Mental Health Awareness Week and I feel compelled to post about something that happened a few days ago. I'm not sure this is exactly a Kimchi post or even a Mama post except in the general way that mental health impacts everyone including Kimchi Mamas.
Anyhow, if you've read my bio here on KimchiMamas you know that I'm a full time doctoral student who focuses on mental heatlh policy. What you probably don't know is that my choice to enter a doctoral program was purely survival. After finishing up my masters I was left with an advanced degree in a job market that was flooded with people with their own advanced degrees; I got second interviews but never any real job leads. We had bills to pay so while loans is not my prefered way to get by, its better than not getting by at all. While I may have been pushed into a PhD program out of necessity; I want to make it clear that I fully embraced the more specific field of mental health.
When it comes to healthcare in the US; we do a lot of things poorly. Whatever side of the ACA debate you fall on you can't argue with the fact that the US spends more money on healthcare than any other comparable country and yet we get some of the poorest outcomes. Couple that with the appalling number of individuals that are uninsured or under-insured and we have a problem of epic proportions. But no matter how bad the general healthcare system is, in many places in the US, the mental healthcare system is by far worse.
This is a travesty because when you don't provide adequate services ranging from support to therapy to medication to those living with mental illness, it's not just the individual who suffers; her family and community suffers as well.
Note: One raindy day I found these on the window sill of the bus and it made me smile. I like to think that they remained there the whole day bringing a little cheer into the commuters' lives that day.
Look I could write a blog post every day about mental health and our need to not only improve our services but our empathy and understanding for those living with mental illness and never exhaust the subject. But today's post isn't about health policy, it's about how mental health is something we ALL need to pay attention to. For ourselves, our families, our friends, and our community. The last time I wrote (it was a while ago, sorry!) I was coming to grips with my tendency to want to control everything. I was learning to let go, I had a counselor. Things got better on that front though I have slips and have to remind myself constantly to just stop.
But then something happened that made me realize that being a control freak isn't the only thing I need to contend with. A few days ago, a good friend posted this buzzfeed post, which features comics in an attempt to illustrate what its like for people living with anxiety. I clicked on it because I'm interested in mental health and I love it when people come up with innovative ways to educate the masses.
As I read the comics, it began to dawn on me, that most of them spoke directly to me. I've always said that I'm socially awkward. Normally I say it while poking fun of myself because I don't really want to make the other person uncomfortable and well...laying myself bare is terrifying. So I joke. The other person laughs and then we move on.
Well, at least the other person does. Me? I sit and dwell on what I just said and wonder what the other person is thinking and second guess myself for even saying anything at all. But in the end, I do it again and again because as terrifying as it is to say something, I feel this urge to warn people. For as long as I can remember every social situation is preceded and accompanied with a constant stream of thoughts inside my head.
"Nobody is going to talk to you."
"Everyone thinks you're stupid and weird."
"Wow, did you really just say that? You are such an idiot."
"You're ugly, nobody wants to be seen with you ."
At social gatherings I often stand awkwardly to the side, trying to look busy. I am convinced I must stand out and that everyone thinks I'm a complete freak. I feel frozen in place, terrified of staying there but equally terrified to move and draw attention to myself. Talking to people who don't know me well is exhausting and not just because I'm also an introvert. I don't know how to do chit chat because I can't imagine that anyone would be interested in a thing I have to say. I often hear that people think I'm rude and I can see how they might get that impression. And of course I feel bad. I feel awful because its not that I don't think the other person is good enough...its that I don't think I'm good enough.
And then there's the telephone. I can't even remember when I stopped using the phone to make phone calls. If face to face interaction is tough; the prospect of talking on the phone petrifies me. I've been saying for some time that its because I can't hear the other person very well over the phone and there is some kernel of truth to that, but the real reason I avoid phone calls is that I'm worried the other person won't understand me. I think I'm so socially incompetent, so stupid, that unless people have serious body language clues to cue them into what I'm trying to say, they won't be able to decipher my words.
Reading the buzzfeed comics, I thought to myself, "Is this what the issue is? Do I have anxiety?" As someone who focuses on mental health policy, I know this must seem incredibly silly that I hadn't seriously considered this before. But the truth is that I had become so used to that voice in my head that I just thought it was me. I mean I know that there are people out there that don't think this way, but this has become my normal.
These issues have been going on since I was a little girl. A large part of it I imagine is due to the years of bullying I was subjected to in school. You get told enough times that nobody likes you and worse that you simply don't matter and you start to buy into it. Of course, some of it might be personality or the way my brain is wired, but whatever the cause this is everyday life for me. I've learned to manage it to some extent. I didn't let it stop me from applying for and entering a doctoral program, I didn't let it stop me from accepting a teaching gig, I didn't let it stop me from taking my field exams, and everyday I get up and leave the house and do the things that I need to do.
But everyday I fight that internal voice that screams at me that I'm not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, thin enough. And I wish just for once to feel that confidence that seems to radiate from some of the wonderful people in my life. I'm sure they fight their own demons, because the truth is we all do, but sometimes I'm just so tired of not measuring up to whatever mythical standards I have set for myself and I wonder if I will ever be good enough in my own eyes.
I don't know the answer to that.
But I do know that I have a daughter whom I love very much. And I hope that when she is older, she never hears that voice in her head that tells her she isn't good enough. But if she does, I hope I have made it clear to her that she can come to me for support and understanding because she doesn't have to do it alone. Nobody should have to do it alone.
So in honor of Mental Awareness Week, I'm listing some national resources.
National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI as it is commonly referred to as is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to advocating for access to services, treatment, supports and research as well as raising awareness and building support communities for those in need. NAMI worksin local communities across the country to raise awareness and provide essential and free education, advocacy and support group programs.
National Institute of Mental Health provides some basic information about who to talk to if you suspect you may have a mental illness as well as where to start to look for resources.
Active Minds has a list of general as well as specific resources for those seeking assistance and support for mental health.The specific resources may prove useful if you have already received a diagnosis.
You're important. You matter. You are good enough.